Out with the old, in with the new

harris250_123008.jpgAUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The ball will drop tomorrow night, ringing in 2009. Before it does let’s look back at 2008 and what a crazy, franchise-changing year it was for the Nets.
 
Oh-eight was the end of three major interconnected eras in Nets’ basketball.
 
The Nets were forced to say farewell to their best player, Jason Kidd, in February. A few weeks earlier, Jason Collins was shown the door and dealt to Memphis and nearly five months after that it was Richard Jefferson’s turn to go — to Milwaukee.
 
Those three were a part of the greatest run in the Nets’ NBA history. They collected four Atlantic Division titles, two Eastern Conference flags and none will ever be as good as they were when they were here.
 
With those goodbyes there were also some hellos.
 
The Nets happily began the Devin Harris era. He’s an All-Star in the making and climbing the charts to be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Paul and Deron Williams as the next generation’s best point guards.
 
The Brook Lopez era looks like it could be a good one. The rookie was a steal at No. 10 and continues to show growth and development. The best thing about him — aside from his size and length — is his willingness to work and get better. It bothers him when he makes mistakes and he works hard to make sure they don’t happen again.
 
The jury is out still on whether Yi Jianlian was an error or will be a successful era. Right now Bobby Simmons and Yi for Jefferson hasn’t worked out that well on the court. But financially, it gives the Nets flexibility in 2010 and a whole other country to tap for marketing and revenue.
 
Calendar year ’08 also was the end of the Nets’ six-year playoff streak and unprecedented franchise run of six straight years of at least a .500 record.
 
It also was the end of Nenad Krstic’s Nets’ career — twice. First, when he signed with Russia over the summer and then Monday when they chose not to match Oklahoma City’s three-year, $15.6 million offer sheet.
 
All of that said, the Nets are in better shape at the end of 2008 than they were on Dec. 31, 2007. Two weeks earlier, Kidd called out sick with a migraine — his way of saying he wants out and it put the Nets in an awful position.
 
None of his teammates would say anything because he was the best player and the reason their scoring totals were what they were. But it was hard on everyone, management included, when the best player didn’t want to be there.
 
Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe made THE BEST possible move in that respect, getting Harris and two first-round picks for an unhappy player near the end of the line.
 
That’s why the Nets are in a better position now. They’re younger — with five regulars 25 and under. They have cap flexibility for the big free-agent class of 2010. And they have assets all over from picks to young players to more manageable contracts.
 
And, amazingly, they have the third-best road record in the NBA. With another away win tomorrow night at Detroit, the Nets will end 2008 with a 16-16 mark. Considering where they could have been, and where most of you thought they would have been, that’s enough reason to have some champagne after the ball drops.
 
*****
 
The Nets sent down Sean Williams to their NBDL affiliate Colorado yesterday to work on his game. There’s no timetable for his return.
 
Al Iannazzone covers The Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

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